Monthly Archives: April 2010

It’s Theme Tunes Day – The Muppet Show

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Computer animation is all very well and good but I still find it quite awe-inspiring how much character and emotion and humanity the late, great Jim Henson – and those who inherited his legacy – could convey with something so low-tech as a little green glove puppet.

The Muppets‘ enduring appeal is a testament to his creativity and genius and this week’s classic theme tune comes from what was arguably the Muppets’ finest hour – certainly their greatest showcase.

The Muppet Show was made in Britain by Lew Grade‘s ATV, part of the UK’s ITV network, after Henson found it tough to sell the idea of a puppet variety show to the big US networks.

It became a huge syndicated hit, running for five seasons (120 episodes) between 1976 and 1981 and launching the Muppets into a successful movie and TV franchise that is still going strong today.

The opening theme and title sequence varied from season to season, so here are versions from all five seasons:

Season 1:

Season 2:

Season 3:

Season 4:

Season 5:

And here is a “clean” version of the full theme song, without the interruptions from the televised opening credit sequences:

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Filed under Classic TV, Tuesday Is Theme Tunes Day, TV Themes

Video Killed The Radio Star: Toyah – Thunder In The Mountains

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You know, the likes of Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera would have us believe they are so original and outrageous and shocking and breaking new ground for female singers.

Truth is, Toyah and her contemporaries were doing it 30 years ago or more. Arguably better. And certainly without the benefit of the modern-day hyped-up marketing spin machine.

Here, from 1981, is the wonderfully overblown Thunder In The Mountains (which has always been my favourite Toyah song).

The appropriately over-the-top, Mad Max-inspired video was directed by Godley and Creme (who you can see performing their own haunting hit, Under Your Thumb, here).

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It’s Theme Tunes Day – Sledge Hammer!

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Doreau: What, you think all women should be barefoot and pregnant?
Hammer: No, I encourage women to wear shoes.

Tucked away in the chaotic wilderness that was the late-night regional ITV schedules of late 1980s here in the UK was a little gem of a US comedy called Sledge Hammer!.

It was a parody/satire of the overly-macho, casually violent cop movies and TV shows of the time, particularly Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films and the TV show Hunter – with a little Police Squad!/Naked Gun-style absurdism thrown in.

David Rasche was outstanding as San Francisco cop Inspector Sledge Hammer, a sexist, intolerant, sadistic, insensitive cop whose best friend is his .44 Magnum handgun – he even slept and showered with it.

The kind of guy who shoots first, doesn’t waste time asking any questions then shoots again, in the pilot episode he was teamed up with new partner Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin) a kind, sensitive, cautious and competent officer – in short, everything he was not.

Adding to the parody of popular cop shows of the era (Starsky and Hutch in particular), Hammer’s boss was Captain Trunk (Harrison Page), a scary, short-tempered, shouty African-American.

In addition to the ironic humour generated by Hammer’s outdated attitudes towards women, law-enforcement, violence and society in general, much of the comedy came from the fact that, for all his bluster and opinionated speeches – Hammer’s catchphrase was “Trust me… I know what I’m doing” – he was pretty rubbish at being a cop. Although he usually got the bad guy in the end, it was generally due to sheer luck, getting bailed out by his partner or by leaving a trail of extreme chaos and destruction in his wake. Or all three.

The show, made by ABC, ran for just two seasons between 1986 and 1988. At the height of its fame, the show even had it’s own comic-book spin-off, published by Marvel:

Despite a good critical reception and respectable viewing figures of around 19million in the US, the producers were so sure it would be cancelled after season one that they had Hammer blow up the city at the end of the season finale while trying to defuse a nuclear bomb.

This caused problems when the show was renewed for season two at the last minute – to get round it, they used a soap opera-style spoof plot device, explaining that season two takes place five years before the finale of season one.

Sledge Hammer! was a great little show, ahead of its time in many ways. Both seasons are available on DVD and although, like many 80s shows, the production values of the time mean that Sledge Hammer! shows its age a little when you watch it now, the humour is timeless and it’s well worth a purchase.

Trust me… I know what I’m doing!

In the meantime, here are the opening credits:

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Filed under Classic TV, Comics, Tuesday Is Theme Tunes Day, TV Themes

Doctor Who – Matt Smith Teams Up With Two Former Companions*

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[*Or three if you count K9.]

Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith will cross over for a guest appearance in the forthcoming fourth season of Doctor Who spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures.

And in the latest crowd-pleasing blast from the past, actress Katy Manning will reprise her role as former companion Jo Grant in the show, alongside Smith and Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane.

Manning accompanied Third Doctor Jon Pertwee between 1971 and 1973.

She and Smith will appear in a two-episode run of the spin-off, which is aimed at a younger audience than the parent show.

Full BBC press release here.

Sarah Jane Smith (travelled in the TARDIS between 1973 and 1976, taking over as The Doctor’s companion after Manning left. She appeared alongside both Pertwee and fourth Doctor Tom Baker.

She was reunited with The Doctor (in the guise of David Tennant) during the second series of the revived Doctor Who in 2006. The character, arguably the show’s all-time favourite companion, was then given her own spin-off show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which also included occasional appearances by the Doctor’s robot dog K-9 (who was reintroduced full-time in season three).

The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), another long-time Doctor Who mainstay who first appeared in the 1970s, has also appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Incidentally, Katy Manning famously caused a bit of a stir when, shortly after leaving Doctor Who, she posed naked with a Dalek for a saucy nude magazine photoshoot.

The photos are pretty tame by modern standards but possibly still NSFW, so click here, here, here, here, here and here to see them.


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The Monday Movie – They Live

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“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…”

A short but sweet scene this week, from John Carpenter‘s 1988 cult classic sci-fi black comedy They Live.

It stars former professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as a drifter who discovers a mysterious pair of sunglasses which reveal a race of aliens that has infiltrated society and are manipulating humans through the use of a secret signal hidden within TV broadcasts which conceals both the aliens’ true form and the subliminal mind-control messages in signs, billboards and other media.

Here’s the film’s most famous line:

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It’s Theme Tunes Day – Northern Exposure

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I was, and still am, a big fan of groundbreaking 1980s hospital drama St Elsewhere, as you may remember from this, this and this.

It was created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, who went on to create another show I was exceptionally fond of back in the day, Northern Exposure.

The gentle, quirky comedy-drama featured a cast of eccentric characters living in the fictional rural town of Cicely, Alaska.

We initially observe them through the eyes of reluctant newcomer Joel Fleischman (played by Rob Morrow), a young, ambitious New York doctor tricked into becoming the town GP after the town patriarch, former astronaut Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin) pays off his medical school loans.

Although essentially a light-hearted, character-driven, culture-clash comedy-drama, Northern Exposure, like St Elsewhere before it, was not afraid to veer off into more fanciful and, on occasion, surreal territory.

It’s interesting that Northern Exposure first aired just a few months after David Lynch’s Twin Peaks began. Both shows had much in common: remote small town location, eccentric characters, surreal overtones, an outsider from the big city.

But while Twin Peaks, like much of Lynch’s work, sought to expose the darker side of human nature, the rotten core just barely hidden beneath a thin veil of small-town respectability, Northern Exposure explored broadly similar small themes in a much more poetic, optimistic, uplifting and hopeful way. If Twin Peaks was about confronting and defeating the darker side of human nature, Northern Exposure was about recognising the positives in people and embracing all that is good in life.

Northern Exposure outlasted Twin Peaks by some way – the series ran for six seasons (110 episodes) between 1990 and 1995.

Here are the opening titles, with the catchy, memorable theme tune and, of course, Mort the moose:

And here is the full version of the theme tune:

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The Monday Movie – Best In Show

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Christopher Guest is perhaps still best known for playing intellectually challenged rock star Nigel Tufnel in Rob Reiner’s 1984 spoof documentary This Is Spinal Tap (a film I have previously spotlighted in the Choob’s Monday Movie feature).

Since then, Guest has explored the genre further by co-writing, directing and starring in his own semi-improvised “mockumentary” films Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration.

Best In Show remains his finest effort to date. The film follows several eccentric oddballs as they prepare their pampered pooches for a prestigious dog show.

Here’s one of the film’s best moments, featuring the film’s co-writer Eugene Levy (best known as the dad from the American Pie movies) and Catherine O’Hara (who you may recognise as Macaulay Culkin’s mum in the Home Alone series).

Some of the film’s funniest moments come from the ill-informed and hilariously inappropriate commentary from announcer Buck Laughlin, played by Fred Willard. Here’s two examples:

Here is Guest himself, as Harlan Pepper, a man with a penchant for nuts:

And finally, Jennifer Coolidge (aka Stifler’s mom in American Pie) as the gold-digging Sherri Ann Cabot:

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